Isle of dreams for Fleet­wood

The Racing Paper - - Golf | Rugby - by Mitchell Platts

TOMMY Fleet­wood can for­get his frus­tra­tion at fail­ing to re­tain his Race to Dubai crown – he fin­ished third be­hind best bud­die Francesco Moli­nari – by be­com­ing the lead­ing man in a star-stud­ded field at the Hero World Cham­pi­onship.

There are only 18 play­ers tee­ing-up in the co­ral-based ar­chi­pel­ago in the At­lantic Ocean, so it rep­re­sents a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity for Fleet­wood to notch the vic­tory that has some­how eluded him for more than ten months.

Fleet­wood played 19 events on the 2018 Race to Dubai. He won the sec­ond, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Cham­pi­onship, but oth­er­wise he had seven top tens, in­clud­ing run­ners-up fin­ishes in the US Open and Al­fred Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship, with­out achiev­ing the fifth Euro­pean Tour tri­umph his golf de­served.

And the 27-year-old from South­port missed only one cut – iron­i­cally in the Open de France at Le Golf Na­tional where he won four points with Moli­nari as Europe whipped the USA in the Ry­der Cup lead­ing to these broth­ers in arms be­ing fa­mously tagged ‘MoliWood’.

Fleet­wood also flirted with a first PGA Tour tri­umph – he notched six top tens – so how good would it feel to bring the cur­tain down on 2018 with a vic­tory in the sun against the likes of World Num­ber Ones Justin Rose, Ja­son Day, Dustin John­son, Justin Thomas and Woods, cur­rent Masters cham­pion Pa­trick Reed, ris­ing stars Bryson DeCham­beau and Jon Rahm and de­fend­ing cham­pion Rickie Fowler.

He might not be favourite in such ex­alted com­pany but based on last year’s de­but per­for­mance on the 7,302 yards (par 72) Al­bany course he is a stand-out price to claim the vic­tory that ap­peared to pos­si­bly be his un­til a third round 74 took the edge away from his front-run­ning open­ing 66.

Not that Fleet­wood, who fin­ished third, or any of the field were given much of a chance on the fi­nal day when Rickie Fowler hit an as­ton­ish­ing 61 to win by four from Charley Hoff­man.

Fowler is now ‘lauded’ as the best player in the world with­out a Ma­jor although he is even com­ing un­der pres­sure to hang on to that some­what du­bi­ous ac­co­lade with the likes of DeCham­beau and Rahm, not to men­tion Fleet­wood, all look­ing to sprout wings when it re­ally mat­ters.

Any­one of those three could re­lieve Fowler of the Ba­hamas ti­tle, although the Amer­i­can can­not be dis­missed af­ter also fin­ish­ing third in 2015 and 2016, but I strongly fancy Fleet­wood with Rahm a huge dan­ger. For­mer cham­pi­ons at Al­bany, Hideki Mat­suyama and Bubba Wat­son, are not with­out a chance, and the re­vi­talised Woods will be ea­ger to win the tour­na­ment he hosts. Even so the two that in­ter­est me most against Fleet­wood and Rahm are Tony Finau and Pa­trick Reed.

Finau has been im­pres­sive de­spite not win­ning, and what price would you pay for his tem­per­a­ment, while Reed, since win­ning The Masters, has gen­tly cast aside all the ar­rows slung at him and con­tin­ued to de­fi­antly aim at the tar­get with a will that can only be ad­mired.

Finau’s feat in se­cur­ing sixth spot in last sea­son’s FedExCup with 11 top tens, in­clud­ing three run­ners-up fin­ishes, un­der­lines his claims while Reed, a win­ner six times on the PGA Tour, edged Fleet­wood for sec­ond place in the Race to Dubai.

Big chance: Tommy Fleet­wood

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